The recent mass shootings at Asian-owned massage parlors in Atlanta brings to the forefront of our consciousness the increase in hate crimes and violence towards Asians in the United States since 2020. As an Asian-American myself, I have been thinking every day about both the anti-Asian racism that has always been around and the current crisis we are seeing. It forces me to realize how easily sentiments toward people who look like me can flip, as if the respect I’ve experienced has always been paper-thin.
A lot of the attacks against Asians have been against women and the elderly, and it’s clear why: they’re presumed to be easier targets. While there have been stories of Asians fighting back, including a 70-year-old woman who beat her assailant with a cane, the fact that she was assaulted in the first place is cause for concern. I am lucky to be a fairly large cisgender man, and thus not an ideal target for those looking to exact some vague sense of revenge on Asians for supposedly bringing COVID-19 to the US, but I do remember what it was like to be small and a victim of bullying. Before I hit a growth spurt in my teen years, I was perpetually one of the smallest kids in class while living in a neighborhood that was not predominantly Asian. I don’t think the kids who picked on me back then were filled with the exact same mix of emotions as what’s going on today, but it’s pretty close, and I do think that the bullying mentality is still a significant factor in what we’re seeing now. Ultimately, it’s a form of control, and rarely have we seen times where people feel less in-control than during a pandemic that has altered how we go about our lives. That’s not to excuse such behavior, of course.
The rise in anti-Asian crimes also has me thinking a lot about that veneer of respectability that Asians in America supposedly have, and how easily it seems to fall away—as if it’s something granted to us by those in power rather than something we own ourselves. I’m not so naive as to think that courtesy and genuine compassion and love can’t exist in those who are racist. To do so would be to ignore the racism that exists within Asian communities against outsiders, let alone the racism inflicted upon us. But what all this has made me realize is how quickly a little bit of fear of the unknown or an act of othering can quickly swell into a full-blown hatred. Star Wars is not exactly the go-to entity for robust philosophical discussion, but Yoda’s classic line seems to ring true here: ”Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” That small negative feeling is just looking for an excuse to burst forth, which is why all evidence to the contrary that Asians are somehow primarily or uniquely responsible for COVID-19’s spread can be ignored, and all it takes is a simple association of “China = Chinese = Asian” to trigger deadly violence.
It’s not so much that fear is inherently bad, but even the small amount of fear in one’s heart, especially towards another group, has dangerous potential if that fear is fed a steady diet of scapegoating. And lest it be assumed that I’m primarily criticizing individuals for not behaving well or daring to have negative thoughts, I place much of the blame on both the systemic racism that affects all people, Asian and non-Asian, as well as the foul rhetoric of the previous bigot of a president who sought to give his supporters a target to direct their hatred. His stubborn insistence on referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus” is largely responsible for inflaming anger and resentment in people, and the result has been both tragic and clearly intentional. Hate is a potent unifier, and those in power are insulated from the price we all pay for encouraging it.
If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to help, go to Stop AAPI Hate.